The United Nations has declared February 11 the sixth International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Presently, less than a third of scientists worldwide are women, and only about a third of women in college are pursing STEM fields. How many more great, female minds are out there who might help solve the world’s problems?
The School of Medicine celebrates path-breaking women scientists by sharing some highlights collected by Duke Today.
Molecular geneticist Debra Silver obtained genetic samples from developmentally disabled children from around the world to see if there was some factor they had in common. Her search identified dozens of new mutations in a single gene that appears to be critical for brain development. The children had all experienced ‘de novo’ mutations of the gene DDX3X that happened during development, and were not inherited from their parents.
Neurobiologist Fan Wang has spent her career tracing the wiring of the sensory nervous system. In 2020, that quest led her to a previously unknown center in the brain that may be the master controller of pain. Her team found they could turn pain on and off by controlling this small area of the amygdala.
Using a giant cryo-EM microscope at Duke, biochemist Maria Schumacher and colleagues rummaged through the toolbox an infectious bacterium called Francisella tularensis uses to infect more than 200 kinds of animals, including humans. They took pictures of all the parts in that infectivity kit, and know how they all fit together. Next step? Seeing how they can ruin a tool or two to prevent tick-borne Tularemia.
To test earlier studies that found smart watches and fitness trackers counted heart rates poorly if a person’s skin is darker, wearables expert Jessilyn Dunn of Duke Biomedical Engineering tested multiple devices against an EKG machine on the wrists of 53 volunteers. Software has been improved so that skin color wasn’t as much of an issue as expected, but a loose fit and activity levels, including typing, led to variability.